Updated: Sep 18, 2020
My last trip to Ipoh, Malaysia, was my 5th visit (since 2005) to the laid-back city and each of those visits showed me how the old town changed. Since my visit in 2015, Ipoh old town had developed quite a little. The number of cafes multiplied, street arts flourished and the three Concubine Lanes were made-over to revive charms in the old town.
But Ipoh's local food culture is still pretty much intact, preserving the traditional tastes.
I put together a list of venues in and near the old town to go for authentic local food — from my last 3 visits since 2015. However, since I were there usually during weekdays and only 2-3 days on each trip, I had no chance to try the food in coffee shops or restaurants that were closed during my trips.
Fortunately, I still have 9 venues to share. And I will add new ones from future visits. Also, I am not a "best food" follower as I believe different people has different taste buds. As a traveller, there is no way I can try everything in Ipoh and come out with a list of the "best". Just try and pick your own likes. I am only showing what I like from my food trails.
1. Kedai Makanan Nam Heong (南香茶餐室)
Some people said that "if you are in Ipoh and did not try the food and white coffee at Nam Heong, you have not been to Ipoh". While I am not a believer of that kind of talk, I still went to Nam Heong to try the food and, of course, its white coffee.
Ipoh is famous for its white coffee which is usually added with milk. My preference is black coffee with some bitterness but I still try the white coffee while in Ipoh, and especially at Nam Heong. And it is good with strong aroma and not too sweet.
*Special note: Most white coffees that are served in Ipoh's traditional coffee shops are usually brewed in the shops. In most other cities, white coffees are normally served from instant coffee sachets and at higher prices than local coffees.
One of things that Nam Heong did was to gather famous flavours in Ipoh and house them under one roof. There are stalls selling char kway teow, prawn noodle, curry noodle, Hakka noodle (yong tau foo), dim sum, etc. We tried most of the signature food from the stalls and we like them all.
I went back again another day to try the Hakka noodle and, this time, black coffee without the milk. The aroma is even stronger.
And not forgetting to try their freshly-made signature egg tarts and barbecue pork pastry from the dim sum stall. The egg custard is smooth and fine, like tofu, and not watery.
Nam Heong is opened daily from 7:00am to 5:30pm.
2. Kedai Kopi Sin Yoon Loong (新源隆茶室)
Sin Yoon Loong is located right opposite Nam Heong. The coffee shop and Sun Yuan Foong next door seemed to be the same setup. You can sit in one of them and order food from the other one.
We were there for breakfast, so we tried wantan noodle (noodle with meat dumplings and barbecued pork), chee cheong fun (rice noodle roll), traditional breakfast set and tried their white coffee too. Ipoh's chee cheong fun is really different from Singapore, with fried onions, sesame seeds, green chilies and spicy-sweet sauce.
Sin Yoon Loong (and Sun Yuan Foong) is opened daily from 7am to 5pm.
3. Restoran Tauge Ayam Lou Wong (老黄芽菜鸡沙河粉)
One of the food that is a must-try in Ipoh is beansprout chicken (芽菜鸡) with sha hor fun (flat rice noodle). And Lou Wong is one of the restaurants serving the popular dishes. I actually ate at Lou Wong on all my visits to Ipoh.
Steamed chicken and fat, juicy beansprouts (Ipoh's own local produce) are actually served separately as two dishes. For such meal, forgo the rice and try the local sha hor fun (made from rice too).
The main branch of Lou Wong is located in the new town, but they has a branch in the old town two shops away from Restaurant Thean Chun. You can go to the 2nd branch if you don't want to walk to the new town.
Lou Wong is opened daily from 10am to midnight.
4. Restoran Ipoh Kong Heng (怡保光兴茶室)
One of the oldest coffee shop in the old town, Kong Heng houses a number of stalls selling noodles, rice, satay, etc. It is located along Lorong Panglima, right opposite the 2nd Concubine Lane. Food can also be ordered from Restoran Thean Chun, just across the narrow lane.
We tried Ipoh char kway teow (fried flat noodle), beef kway teow and sotong Kangkong (cuttlefish with water spinach). We wanted to try the satay too, which we heard is good, but they were already closing for the day at around 3pm.
Kong Heng closes on Wednesday. Other days closed by 3pm.
5. Restoran Thean Chun (天津饮冰室)
Restoran Thean Chun is situated right beside Kong Heng, across the narrow lane of Lorong Panglima. Thean Chun also has a number of stalls selling various food. Similarly, food can be ordered from Kong Heng.
I have had no chance to try the food stalls in Thean Chun yet, except for their caramel custard, which was said to be the best in town. It was really good and not so sweet. I actually went back a couple of times for afternoon coffee with the custard.
Thean Chun closes on Thursday. Other days closed by 4pm.
6. Restoran Frens Corner Snow Beer (朋友饮食阁海鲜大炒)
Hiding in one corner, Frens Corner is pretty much obscured from the main roads. You will find it only if you know where it is. Frens Corner serves cooked food to orders (煮炒 or zi char) under an open night sky. But we were there on a drizzling night.
Frens Corner serves Ipoh's popular snow beer too, where ice-cold beer (any type of light beer) are poured into frozen mug to create lots of foam, which looks like snow on the beer. This is unlike other drinking places which try to reduce the amount of foam.
First night on our latest trip, we ordered Yangzhou fried rice, curry wild boar meat, gai lan (Chinese broccoli) and a steamed fish.
Frens Corner normally opens after 5:30pm till 2am.
7. Kafe Yoon Wah (元华饮食阁)
Be it Kafe Yoon Wah, Kafe Sun Yoon Wah or Restoran Sun Yoon Wah, they are all the same when it comes to eating. Located close to one another, the three outlets belong to the same family and sharing the same kitchen. So, regardless of which outlet you are sitting at, the food are cooked by the same chefs.
Similar to Frens Corner, the 3 Yoon Wah outlets also have snow beer and serve cooked food to orders. The last trip when we were there, we ordered clams in sauce, salted-egg prawns, egg with bitter melon and assam fish with petai (Malay for stink beans). And snow beer too.
Note that Ipoh Booth Cart, a relatively new setup, is also part of Restoran Sun Yoon Wah on the 2nd level, selling booth cart delicacies during the day. Do try it and let us know how is it.
Yoon Wah normally opens around 5:30pm till midnight.
8. Big Bowl Ramen (大碗面，a.k.a. Wheel Noodle TSG)
Located on the ground floor of 1981 Guest House, Big Bowl Ramen used to be called "Wheel Noodle @ TSG". As both names imply, the outlet serves ramen (for at least 2 persons) in ultra big bowls as well as other local noodles, such as their signature wheel noodle, in small bowls. Not sure if they have standard-size bowls.
We ordered all small-bowl noodles they have (from left-most in clockwise direction): Mickey Mouse noodle (老鼠粉 or silver needle noodle), beef hor fun (flat rice noodle), fish balls soup, Ipoh-style assam laksa and wheel noodle.
Wheel noodle is also called "dong dong noodle" due to the sounds made by knocking the bowls together in the old days to attract customers. It is actually fish balls vermicelli topped with Chinese fried dough (油条). Depending on your appetite, 4 small bowls should be sufficient to make up one person's meal.
We also ordered coffees. Mine is the black coffee with butter added. See the oily layer on the black coffee? The soft-boiled eggs are also served in a cup — it is actually easier to eat with a cup.
I did not have the chance to try their big bowl ramen yet. No worries, there will always be another time.
Big Bowl Ramen is opened daily from 9am to 6pm. Saturday till 9pm.
9. Tong Sui Kai (糖水街)
Tong Sui Kai is located some walking distance away from the old town and is not a single entity, but a street of stalls selling mostly desserts, hence, the name tong sui (dessert) kai (street) in Cantonese. There are stalls selling varieties of food as well.
On recommendation from the lady boss of Brick Box Hotel, we tried the popular beef noodle with cow stomach from Cheong Kee Beef Noodle (stall number 47). And it is good. We also had yong tau foo and barbecued chicken wings to go along but we did not try any desserts. Will do that next time.
While Tong Sui Kai is opened daily after 6pm, individual stalls may close on certain days on their own wills.
Check their locations here:
Note that opening days and hours are for reference only as Ipoh cafes, restaurants, coffee shops, etc, are known to close their shops any time they feel like it (which is why the town is so laid-back). But they will always be opened on weekends, school/public holidays, when there are more crowds.
For local food, weekdays are still the best time to be in Ipoh with lesser crowds, just plan around the "expected" off-days. Rest assured, you will not go hungry.